Daniel Korski

Freedom of expression is Rose’s war

Freedom of expression is Rose's war
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Last week, Denmark discovered that two US-based men were plotting a terrorist attack against Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that outraged hard-line Muslims by publishing the infamous Muhammad cartoons in 2005. Allegedly, the two men planned to target cultural editor Flemming Rose and cartoonist Kurt Westergaard. 

The mild-mannered Flemming Rose is back in the spotlight. Asked if he regretted publishing the cartoons, Rose insisted that bowing to such pressure would not yield less extremism, but more. He went further - the cartoons have not been re-issued, which amounts to the sort of self-censorship that moved him to commission the cartoons originally. Rose's target was neither Islam nor Muslims. He wanted to challenge the idea that anyone or anything could be above criticism and ridicule. In this respect, he talked about how, in the last couple of years, legitimate criticism was censored and even outlawed. 

Though he mentioned the Organization of the Islamic Conference's desire to make defamation of religions and prophets “inconsistent with the right to freedom of expression”, Rose invoked the case of M F Husain: an Indian painter whose works depicting Hindu deities in the nude incited protest and threats, and forced the artist into exile. The 94-year-old painter used the same style for decades, but only recently has it become insulting to Hindi nationalists. 

That is Rose’s point. The fight is to ensure that freedom of expression is not against Islam, Muslims or any other religion, but against those who would wish to curtail free debate, free thought, and even the freedom to criticise. That, not a supposed 'Clash of Civilisations', is Rose’s War.  

For as the think-tank Legatum says in its 2009 Prosperity Index, “while some nations seek to allow one aspect of freedom while restricting other aspects, prosperous nations respect freedom in all of its dimensions: economic, political, religious, and personal.”